On Sept. 20, Joseph Duffy is scheduled for his next date in court in what is now likely to become a long, drawn-out case regarding the death of his wife, Mary Jane. Duffy is accused of neglecting his wife so severely and systematically that it led to her death in September 2011.
After Duffy was charged, the Landmark detailed the extent of the allegations, based on reports obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Office of the Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Human Services.
When the Landmark made its FOIA, it also sought to obtain records regarding services Mary Jane Duffy received from the Department of Human Services in order to determine exactly how – in the face of abuse the Office of the Inspector General documented over a six-year period – Mary Jane Duffy slipped through the cracks and was turned over in 2009 to a man she feared and against whom she had won an order of protection.
Lawyers at the Department of Human Services denied those records to the Landmark, claiming they could only provide them with the consent of their client, who died in 2011.
Following that denial, the Landmark appealed to the Illinois Attorney General to review that decision. Based on the Landmark’s complaint, the attorney general has determined that further review is warranted and has asked that the Department of Human Services provide a detailed explanation of their denial along with record samples to determine whether it’s warranted.
Following the initial denial of the records, the Landmark sent a second FOIA to the Department of Human Services, asking for a copy of a treatment plan the Division of Rehabilitation Services wrote for Mary Jane Duffy following a 2007 abuse allegation.
The investigator of that 2007 incident forwarded the matter to the Division of Rehabilitation Services in order for a treatment plan to be developed.
Failing the ability to obtain the treatment plan itself, the Landmark also asked for confirmation by the Department of Human Services of whether any such treatment plan was ever written.
The Department of Human Services denied both requests. Although the Landmark, based on the result of the initial FOIA, assumed the actual treatment plan would be denied, we are at a loss to understand why the agency refuses to state whether a treatment plan was developed at all.
The newspaper has also asked the attorney general to review the denial of the second FOIA as well.
Will we ever know exactly how Mary Jane Duffy was allowed to die a slow, painful death during the last two years of her life? A special investigator is reportedly combing through records of the Office of the Inspector General and a spokeswoman told the Landmark earlier this month that the Duffy case was part of that review.
We’d prefer to conduct our own review, based on documents directly relating to Mary Jane Duffy. She deserves at least that much. To contend that a woman who died through neglect that the agency itself documented over a period of years must somehow magically give consent for records to be released is ludicrous.
The release of those records is not an invasion of privacy; it’s in the interest of the public good.